O. H. Willard was active in Philadelphia, producing stereo views, cartes-de-visite, ambrotypes, and daguerreotypes. He remains a relatively obscure early practitioner of the wet plate and salted paper processes. The weighty patent-office book may have belonged to the unknown sitter, or it may simply have been a prop supplied by the artist to steady the sitter's hands. Like many men of this period, the sitter perhaps had his portrait made as a remembrance for family members prior to a move west, or perhaps to commemorate the award signified by the ribbon proudly pinned to his shirt. His direct gaze and plain clothing, and the slight stiffness of his pose, speak to the artless nobility of the common man, a theme celebrated by Walt Whitman, who portrayed himself as a similar figure in the frontispiece of his inaugural book of poems, Leaves of Grass (1855).